Growing Up Sexually



IES: Indonesia






BALINESE (Bali, Indonesia)


IndexIndonesia → Balinese




Karsch-Haack (1911:p210), Zwaan and Jacobs speak of a form of boy prostitution (vide supra). 

A child in Bali “knows facts about which an adolescent in the West is totally ignorant, and we knew of children under five who could make erotic jokes” (Covarrubias, 1937 [1938:p132-3])[1]. They also smoked. Even contemporarily, “as there is no code of behavior separating children from adults, the child is treated as an equal. Birth, sex, and death are discussed openly and presented ceremoniously as sacred passages of life. Nothing is hidden from the child”[2].

Bateson and Mead (1942:p130-1)[3] give the following (illustrated) account on Balinese genital manipulation of the baby.


“This takes several forms; commonly the mother grasps the penis and gives it a quick tug while letting it slip through the fingers, as if “pulling it off”. In other cases, the mother passes her hand repeatedly upward over the pubes and abdomen in such a way that the penis pressed upward by each passage of the hand; or she may ruffle the penis upward by repeated little flicks, using almost the exact gesture that a man uses when he ruffles up the hackle feathers of his fighting cock to make it angry […]. These behaviors are all play; they are not motivated by the desire to quiet the child, but by the desire to see the child respond”.


Mead (1949 [1955:p62])[4] later recalls:


“[…] the Balinese place very early emphasis on the genitalia. A little boy’s penis is being continually teased, pulled, flipped, flicked, by his mother, his child-nurse, and those around him. With the slight titillation go the repeated words: “Handsome, handsome, handsome”, an adjective applied only to males. The little girl’s vulva is patted gently, with the accompanying feminine adjective “Pretty, pretty, pretty”. There is very little difference in the way in which a woman handles a male child and the way in which she handles her child’s penis. The same flick, the same teasing, occur over and over again, while the bystanders also handle the baby in arms as they handle a small child’s penis”.


It may be inferred that this connotes little erotic significance, since until the child loses his first teeth, he “has a status of maximum innocence and purity; it is the nearest thing to God which man may know” (Belo, 1949:p15)[5]. According to a study by Angulo (1995)[6], only 41.9% of informants stated that “fondling a young boy on his genitals by an adult” was not considered by them as “child abuse”; for fondling young girl’s genitals, this figure reads 32.6% ([p90-2]).


Jennaway (2001)[7] on adolescence:


“Given the emphasis Balinese culture places upon marriage, the courtship period – adolescence and young unwed womanhood - is culturally constructed as the most precarious and potentially dangerous time in a woman’s career. If she gets it right, she will win a spouse and also – failing his premature death, polygynous urges[8] or divorce – material and social security for the rest of her days. If she mucks it up, however, her life circumstances will indeed be precarious, traumatic and insecure.


            In Punyanwangi, good girls submit to paternal authority by never defying their father’s wishes, by helping their mother with household chores, by learning the female arts of cooking and ritual preparations, and above all, by maintaining a reputation for sexual chastity. If they lose their reputation for chastity - irrespective of whether or not their actual chastity remains intact - they lose all. They will have brought down shame upon their father, and worse still, they will have compromised their chances of securing a desirable marriage. Hence young women must never go out alone, unaccompanied by family members or without the sanitizing presence of other females. Once she has a boyfriend a young woman must never date him publicly: meetings should take place in her home under the strict supervision of her father.  Even when a couple is known to be courting, a young woman may maintain the fiction that she has no boyfriend for the sake of outward propriety”.


In former times, the girl had to be abducted with her consent; this could not be done with minors, that is, before teeth are filed (Van Praag, p276, 277, 278-9). “Verboden omgang tusschen de beide geslachten, op zelfs zeer jeugdigen leeftijd, komt zeer veel voor, men noemt dit mĕmitra. […] Wordt het feit ontdekt en door getuigen bewezen, dan betaalt de eer-roover eene boete […]. De geslachtelijke omgang op jeugdigen leeftijd geschiedt niet altijd in het geheim, doch dikwijls met medeweten van de ouders der beide partijen” [9] (J., 1883:p133-4). Jacobs attributes impotence to the use of opium and “particularly also to “abusus in Venere” to which most are already given in their youth” (p110).


“Ook de masturbatie is vrij algemeen. De ketimoe en de pisang worden door de Balische meisjes veel als versnapering, doch niet alleen als versnapering gebruikt. In de kamer van menig Balisch meisje kan men een uit was vervaardigde tjĕlak-tjĕlakan malèm (tjĕlak beteekent penis, malèm beteekent was) vinden en menig uurtje wordt in stille afzondering met dien consolidator doorgebracht”[10] (also cited by Wilken, 1889:p457).






Janssen, D. F., Growing Up Sexually. VolumeI. World Reference Atlas. 0.2 ed. 2004. Berlin: Magnus Hirschfeld Archive for Sexology

Last revised: Sept 2004


[1] Covarrubias, M. (1937) Island of Bali. London: Cassell & Co.

[2] Brandeis-McGunigle, G. & Rahman, Z. (1991) Childhood and ritual in Bali, Mothering, Fall, 61:38 et seq.

[3] Bateson, G. & Mead, M. (1942) Balinese Character: A Photographic Analysis. New York: The New YorkAcademy of Sciences. See also Ussel, J. van (1968a) Geschiedenis van het Seksuele Probleem. Meppel [Holland]: Boom [1971 ed.,p170]

[4] Mead, M. (1949) Male and Female. 1955 Mentor Book ed., New York

[5] Belo, J. (1942) Bali: Rangda and Barong. New York: J. J. Augustin

[6] Angulo, R. C. (1995) Cross-Cultural Study of Child Abuse on the Island of Bali, Indonesia. Thesis, CaliforniaStateUniversity

[7] Jennaway, M. (2001) Displacing Desire: Sex and Sickness in North Bali. Paper for presentation at the 3rd IASSCS Conference in Melbourne, 1-3 Oct. 2001

[8] I have analysed polygyny in depth elsewhere (Jennaway 2000). [orig.footnote]

[9] “Forbidden intercourse between both sexes, even at a very youthful age, is a frequent occurrence called mĕmitra. […] When discovered and proven by witnesses, then the violator is to pay a fine […]. Sexual intercourse at a young age does not invariably take place in secret, yet often with parental of both parties” [transl., DJ].

[10] “Masturbation, too, is fairly common. The ketimoe and the pisang are utilised by the Balinese girls  often, but not solely, as a snack. In the room of many a Balinese girl one can find a wax tjĕlak-tjĕlakan malèm (tjĕlak signifies penis, malèm signifies wax) and many hours are passed in silent solitude with this consolidator” [transl., DJ].